In 2020, The Missouri Bar sharpened its focus on how to increase the retention of diverse lawyers in the legal profession. This supports The Bar’s commitment to ensure that Missouri lawyers reflect the diverse constituencies of the state and that all members view The Bar as an inclusive organization where they belong.
Then Bar President Thomas V. Bender took the first step and formed the Special Committee on Lawyers of Color in 2020. Chairing the committee initially were Pamela Meanes, a civil litigator and partner with Thompson Coburn LLP, and Robert G. Bailey, assistant dean emeritus of the University of Missouri School of Law.
Meanes was instrumental in charting the course for this committee’s work in helping to reshape diversity in Missouri. “My commitment is for The Bar’s efforts to have a real impact on diverse lawyers in our state,” she says. “Diversity can’t be accomplished without a partnership between those who are diverse and those who aren’t diverse. The lawyers who are serving on this committee have the hope, the willingness and the commitment we need. They went to work quickly and came up with powerful suggestions.”
Bailey joined Meanes in structuring the committee and leading this group of diverse and non-diverse lawyers in working together. Meanes resigned from the committee in late 2020 because of personal reasons. Bailey continued as chair, and Casey Wong — a litigation partner with Sandberg Phoenix — joined him as vice-chair.
“There is unbelievable energy, enthusiasm, wisdom, experience and passionate advocacy among the members of this committee,” Bailey says. “Leading them is a joyful experience. Every single committee member is committed to what we are doing, and that doesn’t happen very often.”
Bailey readily admits that he is growing in his knowledge of what lawyers of color are facing as they attempt to advance in their careers, remain in the legal profession, and take on leadership roles. “This is an incredibly worthwhile project,” he says, “and incredibly rewarding for me personally.”
Wong adds, “This committee’s collaborative approach plus their passion about seeing lawyers of color promoted and retained in our profession inspire me. I’m proud that The Missouri Bar is taking a stand on diversity. This is another major step forward in changing the culture in Missouri. Finding effective programs that are realistic and efficient and that can be accomplished is a delicate balance.”
In its 2021 report, the committee proposed tangible solutions and recommended six initiatives for action by The Missouri Bar. The Board of Governors approved all of them.
“Honest conversations. Remembering that your voice is critical in spaces where I may never be,” Meanes says. “That’s how we address the diversity issue and how we become part of the solution.”